State COVID testing sites begin to close

State COVID testing sites begin to close

In summary

As the state prepares to end the state of emergency, the least-used sites will close first.

California is preparing to close dozens of state-run COVID-19 testing and treatment sites before the state of emergency is scheduled to end in February.

Sites operating at less than 50% capacity must close by the end of January. Forty-four OptumServe locations will be closed this week, and 48 mobile “mini-buses” will begin closing in two weeks, according to the California Department of Public Health. OptumServe, a healthcare operations company, operates 123 testing and treatment sites as well as four vaccination clinics under state contracts.

The healthcare giant has at least four contracts, under its former name Logistics Health, with the state totaling $1.05 billion to provide testing and vaccination services, although it has been criticized in the past for its bumpy deployment. Another arm of the company signed an additional $47 million contract to design a data management system for COVID-19 test results.

“A final demobilization plan for the remaining sites is being prepared, but we have not set a completion date,” an unidentified department spokesperson said in a statement. The state health department was only responding to emailed questions and not attributing the statement to any individual.

The state of emergency, which provided additional funding and staffing flexibilities at medical facilities, is set to end on the last day of February.

“We’ve learned a lot from this COVID response, and we need to make sure we don’t lose those gains.”

dr. Mark Ghaly, Secretary of State for Health and Human Services

The closures come just a week after Governor Gavin Newsom released his January budget proposal, which transfers $614 million in unspent COVID-19 response funds to the state’s general fund and significantly reduces the amount of the pandemic money for the coming year.

Last year’s budget included $1.8 billion for the state’s COVID-19 emergency response and long-term strategy, while the proposed budget for the coming fiscal year is only of $176.6 million. The budget cuts come as the state faces a projected $22.5 billion deficit, according to Newsom’s proposal. Secretary of State for Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghaly said in a budget call with reporters that most of the proposed decrease comes from a decrease in state testing responsibilities. , but he stressed that the spending cuts are not “a statement about the passage of COVID in California.”

“We will continue to look for opportunities to support public health,” Ghaly said. “We’ve learned a lot from this COVID response, and we need to make sure we don’t lose those gains.”

Demand for COVID-19 molecular testing has plummeted across the state since last January, when the omicron variant pushed hospitals to the brink of collapse. At the time, more than 800,000 PCR test results were reported for a single day and more than 15,000 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 at the height of the outbreak. By comparison, fewer than 30,000 test results and 4,600 hospitalizations were reported on the last day of December (the most recent day with finalized counts, according to state data).

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Across the state, county health departments are preparing for the shutdowns and absorbing the costs into their own budgets.

In Los Angeles County, OptumServe will stop operating four locations, but the county will contract with another vendor to keep the doors open, a county health services spokesperson said by email.

“It is important to emphasize that the change will be seamless,” the Health Services Communications Office told CalMatters in an unsigned statement. “Community residents looking for a test site will experience no disruption to existing services.”

At a news conference last week, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the county is committed to ensuring there are “broad” options for testing and treatment. vaccination.

In other parts of the state, health departments are unable to manage sites on their own. All five OptumServe locations in Fresno County will close by January 31. Only one of the sites is currently operating at more than 50% capacity, said public health spokeswoman Michelle Rivera. Mobile test buses to treat will stop services the first week of February.

Community members will always have options, Rivera said. The county health department continues to work with community organizations, UCSF-Fresno, and the Fresno State School of Nursing to continue providing testing, treatment, and immunization services across the county. region. The Fresno County Board of Supervisors also approved funding for a rural mobile health program to provide health care to farm workers and other rural communities.

Fresno County has been particularly hard hit by the latest post-holiday wave of COVID-19 as well as simultaneous outbreaks of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, issuing emergency do-not-carry orders to paramedics for the sixth time since the start of the pandemic to combat the overflow of emergency services. Non-transport orders, also known as assessment and referral, require ambulance personnel to determine if a patient requires emergency transport or is stable enough to be referred to a non-emergency medical facility such as primary care.

“Unfortunately, it looks like we’ll be dealing with COVID for the long haul.”

santa clara county emergency operations spokesperson roger ross

In Santa Clara County, state-run sites are also expected to close in the coming weeks, emergency operations spokesman Roger Ross said. The county, however, will continue to operate three mass vaccination sites and has already begun integrating the COVID-19 response into normal health department operations.

“Public Health recently created a COVID prevention and control program as part of our standard operations. Most of the work now resides here,” Ross said. “Unfortunately, it looks like we’ll be dealing with COVID for the long haul.”

In Orange County, where COVID-19 health orders have at times drawn public anger, testing and vaccination strategies will largely shift to “the open market where individuals self-manage COVID-19.” through primary care and other community resources, the health department announced last month in a news release. County-run vaccination sites, which served about 200 patients a week, were closed in December, although the health department continues to offer vaccinations to vulnerable populations like the homeless, Obinna Oleribe said. Deputy Chief of Public Health Services for Orange County.

The federal government requires health insurance plans to cover eight over-the-counter COVID-19 tests per person per month, including FDA-approved home PCR tests. Each household can also order four free rapid tests from the federal government. When used appropriately, home tests of all kinds are considered very accurate, although data shows PCR tests to be more reliable.

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